South Region Outlook
March 20, 2013
By Joe Nelson
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Midwest Region Outlook | West Region Outlook | East Region Outlook
With the brackets set, here is a quick look at the South region and some of the games and teams to pay attention to. Kansas, Georgetown, Florida, and Michigan lead a bracket filled with powerhouse programs with a lot of great tradition. Take a look at the South region in this snapshot.
Favorite: Florida – While Kansas and Georgetown were seeded higher in this region, Florida is the odds-on favorite in this region at 7/5 to advance to the Final Four. Only Louisville and Indiana are liked better by the oddsmakers to win the national championship despite the Gators being a #3 seed. Florida opened the season looking like the best team in the nation opening up 7-0 with blowout wins over Wisconsin, Middle Tennessee State, Marquette, and Florida State but things have not gone as well lately. The Gators did also lead Georgetown in the aircraft carrier game to open the season before it was cancelled for an interesting side story should those teams meet in this bracket. Florida has certainly shown some vulnerability in recent weeks, losing four of the past nine games including two losses to teams that did not make the NCAA Tournament field. Another concern is the inability to win close games for the Gators despite a well-balanced veteran team. Most Florida wins came by huge margins with 10 points being the smallest margin of victory all season. Six of the seven Florida losses came by six points or less and in the NCAA Tournament there will likely be some close games where the Gators will need to make plays down the stretch to get or hold a lead. Florida has dominant statistics and has the best efficiency ratings in the nation due to the many lopsided wins, but this is a team that will need to prove itself in crunch time now that the games really matter.
Final Four Sleeper: VCU – Virginia Commonwealth made an amazing Final Four run two years ago and this is a team that has the potential to make a run again. While this team is not as talented as the squad from two years ago, the aggressive turnover-forcing defensive philosophy can cause a lot of problems in a tournament setting. The bracket also lines up favorably as the Rams draw an Akron team that will be playing without its starting point guard in the first round and then will face a Michigan squad that is young and really struggles defensively at times. VCU is more efficient on offense than you might expect, but that is an impact of the easy baskets in transition and off turnovers as this is a pretty average shooting team and a marginal rebounding squad. The Rams will play close with anyone, as just about every loss came in a very close game including narrow misses against Wichita State, Duke, and Missouri early in the year. VCU went 0-2 against St. Louis this season in a very strong Atlantic 10 conference, but there are wins over five different NCAA Tournament teams on the resume. The NCAA Tournament track record is pretty impressive the last two years as last year this team followed up the Final Four run with a strong showing last year, beating Wichita State and then losing by just two against Indiana. VCU beat Kansas two years ago to get to the Final Four and they may get that chance again in the Sweet 16 of the South region.
Sweet 16 Sleeper: Oklahoma – Many can see VCU, San Diego State, or even Minnesota making a run in this region, but an Oklahoma squad that had a very respectable season is getting little attention. While the Mountain West rated as one of the best conferences in the nation this year, the track record of that league in the NCAA Tournament is incredibly poor and San Diego State may be the weakest of the five entrants. The Aztecs went 4-5 in the final nine games of the season yet still managed a #7 seed, but the price includes traveling to the east coast with as long of travel as any team in the tournament for the opening game. San Diego State went 5-8 against teams that made the NCAA Tournament and this team is getting too much respect for a dominant 55-34 win over New Mexico back in January that came in a very difficult spot for the Lobos. That leaves this team vulnerable to an Oklahoma a team with wins over Oklahoma State, Kansas, and Iowa State in Big XII play. Losing the last game of the regular season and the first conference tournament game should leave the Sooners motivated and with two overtime losses and four other losses by three or fewer points on the year, it very easily could have been an even stronger year for Oklahoma. Facing Georgetown in the Round of 32 will be a big challenge if Oklahoma gets by San Diego State, but Georgetown is one of those teams that can go into great slumps offensively and keep in mind the Hoyas have not won a second game in the NCAA Tournament since the Final Four run in 2007.
Best Opening Game: North Carolina vs. Villanova – UCLA and Minnesota could also be a highly competitive game, but this should be the most entertaining. North Carolina has been forced to play small down the stretch, but it has been a formula that has worked as the Tar Heels played excellent late season ball and gave Miami a great run in an offensive showdown in the ACC Championship game. North Carolina won 11 of the last 15 games of the season and all four losses came against teams that are #2 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, so this is a team with some great momentum and talent that is finally starting to reach its potential. Villanova will clash in style with the Tar Heels as this Wildcats team has had success in slower half-court games. While the Wildcats are not the most consistent offensive team in the bracket, they are one of the most efficient defensive teams in this region and this team picked up several big wins down the stretch to play into the field after a rough start to the season. Villanova played one of the nation’s toughest schedules and has wins over Louisville, Syracuse, Marquette, and Georgetown this season and this could be a great match-up between traditional powers. The winner will certainly be a tough draw for top seeded Kansas in a four-team pod that features a lot of history.
Trendy Upset that won’t be: South Dakota State over Michigan – Michigan is young and the Wolverines have struggled down the stretch with a 6-6 record in the final 12 games of the season after being the #1 team in the nation at one point. South Dakota State is an offensive juggernaut that scores nearly 74 points per game and has one of the top shooting percentages in the field. Michigan is one of the worst defensive teams in the Big Ten, but South Dakota State is perhaps the worst defensive team in the entire 68-team bracket. The Jackrabbits won the Summit League title, but the conference fared very poorly in the Bracket Buster and this team only has two wins over teams that made the NCAA Tournament. One of the wins was a true gem, winning at New Mexico with a very cold shooting performance for the Lobos in a game that meant far more to the underdog. Michigan won’t be caught off guard by this match-up and star guard Nate Wolters will be forced into difficult shots throughout this game. Against Minnesota earlier this season, South Dakota State lost by 22, so matching up with a superior Big Ten team could be problematic. This has the feel of a match-up where the underdog might have a hot start and make some waves early, but eventually the stronger team will prevail and stopping Michigan’s offense that ranks second in the nation in efficiency will be a big problem for the Jackrabbits.
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